Over the years, as I have read and listened, and processed commentaries on modesty, something, in particular, has stood out. When advocates of modesty talk about immodest women, they almost uniformly fail to grasp the tragic reality behind the surface problem. I read one woman who went so far as to pontificate about what the thought process of a girl who was choosing immodest clothing was as she dressed. This particular author thought that a choice to wear inappropriate apparel was a deliberate calculation to attract attention. Another woman assumed that immodest clothing equated to a rebellious heart. Personally, I think that these ungracious depictions stem from genuine naivety. Women who don’t understand the heart of immodesty often don’t because they have been (rightly) loved and protected in ways the subjects of their conversations have not. They don’t understand why a girl would choose to wear revealing clothing, so it is easy to assume the worst.
I was raised in a very “modesty”-focused home. I wasn’t allowed to wear blue jeans because they made me “look too masculine”. I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair past my shoulders as a young woman. I couldn’t pierce my ears until I was 13 and couldn’t wear makeup until I was 16. We were only allowed to wear white underwear because “only girls who want their undies to be seen wear colors.” I wore a lot of full-length denim jumpers and sneakers. In our home, modesty wasn’t a means to righteousness, it was a goal in and of itself. I moved out of my parent’s home when I was sixteen years old. I got a job and supported myself. Having grown up in such an oppressive environment, the first thing I did was cut my hair very short, dye it unnatural colors, and overhaul my wardrobe. What I ended up wearing was, indeed, immodest. One roommate described my fashion sense as a “Japanamation Brittany Spears”. But here is the thing: I wasn’t trying to seduce men. I didn’t even like them. And I wasn’t in rebellion against God because I wasn’t sure if He even existed. I had been taught about God growing up, but the God I knew then was a crudgemudgeon. He was on a mission to destroy all the wicked people and our job as Christians was to help save as many as we could before Armageddon. This idea of God never made sense to me. Why would an all powerful God need my help saving people? And if God was good, why did He allow all the bad things that had happened to me? When I got dressed in the morning, I barely noticed what I was putting on. They were just clothes, and I was deeply troubled to the point of being suicidal. It was during this dark time in my life that I was confronted by several of the women in my church. I wasn’t an official member yet, but I showed up most Sundays, still looking for answers. I barely even knew the names of the women who called me, but they told me how wrong I was to wear what I did. One woman even informed me that I was “stumbling her sons”. Like I said before, I was dressing immodestly, but what these well-meaning women didn’t seem to understand was that my problems were much more serious than what they assumed. Their actions communicated that I was an annoying inconvenience in their lives. They never bothered to get to know me or ask how I was doing. I wish they had because I needed help. I was terribly sad. Every day, I woke up with an ocean of despair swallowing me up. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was failure; completely worthless. I thought it would have been better if I had never been born. I wanted to die, who cared about what I was wearing.
That summer, I found myself in a place of particular hopelessness again. Pills and alcohol had failed to end my life many times, and my next option would be a gun. Something about the violence and premeditation required in this method shook me up. I called a doctor’s office and asked if I could be seen immediately. Mercifully, the doctor available to see me that day was a Christian. We talked for a long time. I cried. He prayed. I was diagnosed with severe depression. He became my primary care provider and helped me get into counselling. He reminded me that God loved me and that I was a beautiful creation. This doctor, he cared, which was something that had never been communicated effectively to me by anyone, but especially by folks who had sought to fix my outward problems instead of loving me. It was throughout the next several years, as we began to take care of my deep-seated problems, that I began to have time and desire to address my external appearance.
Ok, you say, that is a sad story. But what about girls who are deliberately disobeying their parents? What about girls who sneak out of the house in clothes their parents would have vetoed? What about girls who wear more makeup than a circus clown and fishing lure earrings? What about the girls twerking in the nightclub? Shouldn’t we say something? To you, I’d ask, how do you know for sure what is going on in her heart? Can you see into the dark and secret places of her mind? You can’t, but God can. God has made it very clear that He cares more about our hearts than outward appearances. Sisters, it is our Christian responsibility to follow in His footsteps.
Am I suggesting that we never confront immodesty as a sin? Of course not. But I promise that, if you are itching to tell someone that they are inappropriate, your heart is in no position to confront them. If the woman in question is not your daughter, not your sister, not your best friend, I exhort you now to bite your tongue and hold your peace. Sometimes we must judge, but we will be judged by the standard with which we judge, and that should make you hesitate. We are not called primarily to judgement, but to mercy and grace.
When it comes to true outward immodesty (we aren’t talking about petty inches and styles here), the problem always goes much deeper than what you can see. Women who are truly immodest need Jesus, not your critical eye. They need the Gospel — the whole wonderful story. They need to understand that they are cherished, worthy of love and honor and respect because they are daughters of the King.